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How to make your chinchillas feel at home

Although chinchillas are small creatures, they can be very active and need plenty of space to run around.

Providing your chinchillas with suitable spacious housing – with chinchilla-friendly toys and activities – will help keep them active, happy and healthy.

Creating the right environment for your chinchillas

Chinchillas can be very sensitive to the wrong environment, so choose their location carefully. Ideally, the room temperature should be around 10-15°C. They are used to colder, and will not tolerate high temperatures – leading to large amounts of moulting, lack of interest in food and lethargy.

Consider the room they are in. Chinchillas are active at dawn and dusk, and will benefit from a room with low traffic noise levels. Don’t place the cage next to a window or a radiator.

The ideal cage design for a pair of chinchillas

Choose a cage with a solid metal base – plastic or mesh can cause injury and discomfort. Minimum sizes:

  • Bar spacing: 12-14mm
  • Depth: 63cm
  • Width: 93cm
  • Height: 159cm

Keep your chinchilla happy and occupied

Chinchillas are very active and enjoy items in their cage that they can chew and jump on. It is very important to furnish the cage with safe items that your chinchillas can’t injure themselves on.

Your chinchillas will enjoy:

  • Twigs, stumps and branches from apple, pear or willow trees for them to chew and jump on
  • Wooden boxes for them to sleep in
  • Wooden platforms. Chinchillas love to jump from level to level – these are great for breaking up the space and preventing falls from a height. They also enjoy having a snooze on these!
  • Ceramic or hard card tunnels – make sure there are no broken or sharp edges to prevent any injuries. If your chinchilla is prone to chewing card, avoid using card tunnels to reduce the risk of gastro intestinal tract blockages.
  • Dust bath in a metal tray. Allow your chinchillas access to a dust bath using chinchilla sand several times a week to keep their fur and skin healthy. Place the tray in their cage for 24 hours at a time or when you give them some free-range time. Avoid leaving it in all the time as they may start using it as a toilet.
  • Hammocks made from anti-pill fleece.  Like the wooden platforms, these are great for allowing your chinchilla to jump around different levels and for providing a break to prevent the chinchilla falling from height.

Avoid these chinchilla toys:

  • Ladders are not safe for chinchillas as they can cause leg injuries
  • Hanging toys such as parrot or rodent ropes and swings. As chinchillas are very fast and reactive, they can damage their legs or become caught on hanging items
  • Plastic toys will be destroyed very quickly and may become dangerous. Chinchillas may ingest the plastic or injure themselves on sharp edges.
  • Any toys that the chinchillas may trap their legs in while jumping about
  • Take extra care and monitor individual chinchillas with items that can easily be chewed such as card, paper or fleece/material enrichment as these can pose a risk of gastro intestinal tract blockages if aloud to ingest these substances.

Choosing the right chinchilla bedding

Make sure your chinchillas have a nice, soft bedding base for their cage, rather than using a mesh floor. This will avoid injury to their feet and help meet their natural behavioural and environmental needs.

There are many bedding options available and many views on the safest option. It all comes down to the individual. All chinchillas are different; some will interact with the substrate and others will totally ignore it.

Your chinchillas will often choose to sleep either on a platform or inside a box or hammock. Provide them with options by lining some of these with soft, good quality hay. On warmer days your chinchillas may choose to sleep out on the bare platforms.

Here are some options:

  • Soft, short meadow hay – not only is it soft, it also allows them to naturally forage for food as chinchillas need to eat hay as part of their diet.
  • Hemp bedding – can be used in litter trays or as a substrate on the whole base of the cage.
  • Fleece base – fleece is fast becoming a very popular choice of bedding for chinchillas. However, care should still be taken to monitor for damage to the fabric which could cause a leg injury or potential plastic fibre blockage. Anti-pill fleece is the only type of fleece safe to use with chinchillas. Fleece will need changing every day or two and laundered to prevent your chinchillas sitting in wet bedding which could cause skin issues.
  • Short chopped shredded paper – similar to fleece, chopped shredded paper should be monitored and always look out for signs that your chinchilla may be eating it.  Although most will show little interest, some might ingest it. If this is the case, an alternative choice of bedding should be provided. You should also review their enrichment items and feeding method. Encourage your chinchillas to chew safe items by providing plenty of safe options and take more time foraging for food.

Never use wood shavings or sawdust for your chinchillas. These can be very dusty and are a common cause of skin related illnesses. Avoid paper fibre confetti type bedding as these can be very dangerous if ingested by your chinchillas.

How to clean out your chinchillas

Clean your chinchillas’ cage out weekly to help keep them in good health.

Each day, use a small dustpan and brush to sweep the platforms and any areas with a build-up of poo to prevent illness.

If you are using anti-pill fleece as the lining of the cage, these will need to be removed and replaced with clean, laundered fleece every day or two, depending on how messy your chinchillas are.

When doing a full clean, always use a pet-safe disinfectant to clean the cage. Take the opportunity to add a few new toys in the cage for interest, like a new apple branch or box for your chinchilla to explore.

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